Founded in 2001, Hart House was the only residential respite home for children with disabilities and learning difficulties of its kind in The Gambia. Child Aid Gambia has proudly supported Hart House since our formation in 2011.
We are deeply saddened to announce that since the death of Geoff Hunwicks, the founder and CEO of Hart House. The facility has now closed.
Geoff was a tireless advocate for the rights of children with disabilities in The Gambia, and Hart House was his life's work. Through setting up the respite home in 2001, Geoff ensured the safety, wellbeing and independence of countless disabled Gambian children. Geoff's vision was that all children, regardless of ability or diagnosis, should be treated with kindness and respect - and this is a vision Child Aid Gambia shared with him.
We have supported Geoff and his team at Hart House for many years, and we have been delighted to see how the project grew and strengthened under his leadership. Geoff was an unforgettably kind, generous and understanding man, who will be missed terribly by all of us.
Hart House Sinchu Alhajie Village, Kombo North, was founded by Geoff Hunwicks and his wife Rohey, providing residential short-term care for children with complex physical and cognitive needs. Hart House offers respite for parents and guardians who are often already suffering financial hardship, and provides education and engaging activities for the children alongside 24-hour care.
Attitudes to disability in The Gambia are extremely limited, with knowledge of the causes of disability and how to provide appropriate care lagging significantly behind most Western countries. With superstition in rural and tribal communities still rife, children with disabilities in The Gambia can find themselves the victims of abuse, neglect and severe discrimination. Children with cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and other complex needs are often unable to receive the right help and care to give them a good quality of life, leaving them misunderstood and neglected. Children with disabilities in The Gambia often do not make it to adulthood – and those that do face homelessness, destitution and physical agony as their conditions are left untreated.
Hart House works to provide relief for families, as well as meeting the needs of each individual child to help them to reach their full potential. Child Aid Gambia visits Hart House regularly to observe the pioneering work of their staff, partaking in activities, group lessons and one-to-one teaching sessions and mealtimes, getting to know each of the children who live at the house five days a week. The children and staff have built up a community of their own, where every child is valued, cared for and listened to.
Hart House is a unique setting, providing training for staff in communication skills, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and first aid, allowing them to understand the needs of the children they provide for. Alongside everyday care, the children at Hart House are given education sessions, physical therapies, speech and language therapies and opportunities to practice literacy and mathematical skills to the extent of their abilities.
No matter the difficulties a child at Hart House may face, the staff are committed to ensuring that they are healthy, happy and secure. Despite ongoing financial difficulties, Hart House provides these children with an enriching curriculum of activity, allowing the children to play and develop independently as well as work on vital life-skills such as feeding and dressing themselves.
Our role with Hart House
Child Aid Gambia is supporting Hart House as part of our pledge to stand up for children in The Gambia who are suffering from discrimination and inequality. We firmly believe that disabled Gambian children have a right to be safe and happy, free from fear, neglect and abuse. Regardless of the complexity of their needs, we are working alongside Hart House to provide funding and equipment to provide for children with disabilities in The Gambia, giving them a chance to learn, have fun, and form friendships in a safe environment.
A donation to Hart House through Child Aid Gambia could provide a disabled child with:
- Hot meals throughout the day, or milk and easy-to-digest nourishment for those who struggle to eat
- Specialist equipment, such as wheelchairs, stools or physiotherapy toys
- Comprehensive training for staff, which includes information on therapies, communication and first aid
- Medical equipment and medicines to keep at the house
- Toys and other equipment for entertainment and social activities
- Educational and therapy tools and resources
What next for Hart House?
The children and staff at Hart House still require a great deal of financial assistance. Receiving no government funding, the house is run entirely based on donations of money and equipment. Without the support of Hart House, many Gambian families with disabled children would find themselves with nowhere to turn for any formal education or therapy, leaving them and their children to suffer extreme discrimination, shunned by their communities and left to fend for themselves. With 75% of Gambians still living under the poverty line, the already devastating hardships they face are exacerbated by the responsibility of caring for a disabled person, for whom there is often minimal information and advice from hospitals and health centres.
We want disabled children in The Gambia to know they are loved and important, and to have the opportunity to flourish as much as they possibly can. With your help, we will be able to provide more for the staff and children at Hart House, to give each child the best chance of living a happy and fulfilling life.
There are so many disabled children in The Gambia who need specialist care and education. We want to continue supporting Hart House long into the future, providing equipment and funding, as well as looking towards developing similar projects elsewhere in The Gambia. With your help, we can advocate and care for disabled Gambian children, regardless of the challenges they face.